El Rey Theatre

333 W. Main Street,
Alhambra, CA 91801

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PaulMartinez on July 22, 2023 at 8:35 pm

I left Monterey Park in 1975, so merely stating some of the films I saw there over the years (as first-run films): I saw a matinee-only screening of “Wizard of Oz” in 1971. That night, they then showed a film called “Sudden Terror” with Mark Lester (Oliver) & Susan George. Other films included Disney flicks like “Million Dollar Duck”, “World’s Greatest Athlete”, “Robin Hood” (the Disney animated film), Disney’s “Alice in Wonderland”, “Lt. Robin Caruso, USN” (a 1973 re-issue), “The Strongest Man in the World”, “The Wild Country” (with Ron Howard), “Escape from the Planet of the Apes”, “Conquest of the Planet of the Apes”, and one time I returned to Alhambra, and saw “Rocky” (the original) there, in 1976. Didn’t see too many scary movies at the El Rey, but in 1973 I did see “Sssssssss” & “The Boy Who Cried Werewolf”, as a double-feature. I loved their “golden curtain” that rose & fell for each film.

Cinema22 on August 22, 2017 at 7:44 pm

I saw “Skateboard” at the El Rey in 1978!

80s_Cinema_kid on June 8, 2016 at 3:39 am

I clearly remember going to El Rey . All the Friday the 13th movies would show at the El Rey
I saw these movies at El Rey
The Buddy Holly Story
Roller Boogie
The Black Hole
I know I went there a few more times . It was across the street from Pedrini Music

Joe Vogel
Joe Vogel on October 4, 2014 at 11:58 pm

Andrew: I don’t recall having seen an organ console in the El Rey when I attended movies there at least a dozen times in the late 1950s and early 1960s. But then I don’t think I ever attended the El Rey prior to the installation of the CinemaScope screen in 1954. The screen was quite wide, and if the organ hadn’t been removed earlier it was probably taken out when the screen was installed.

The only old house in the San Gabriel Valley that I know for certain still had an organ in the 1960s was the Rialto in South Pasadena. I believe it’s still there, but it hasn’t been used since being damaged in a fire in the 1970s.

AndrewBarrett on October 4, 2014 at 10:29 pm

According to the Judd Walton / Peter Beames Wurlitzer Opus list, The “Temple Theatre” in Alhambra, California had a two manual, four rank Wurlitzer model B theatre pipe organ (opus 487) shipped on November 22, 1921.

This was apparently the second model B that Wurlitzer built.

According to this opus list, the status of the organ is “XX” or unknown.

Does anybody know what happened to this organ (or its parts)?

It doesn’t appear to be mentioned at all in the above-quoted pre-demolition article, making me think that it had already been removed by that time.

davt on March 28, 2013 at 6:46 pm

the El Rey wasn’t demolished until around 1990 if memory serves me correct. I remember the owner exhausted every avenue to try to keep it. Demolishing it was the last resort. I remember they used to have dollar Wednesdays and double Features.

Joe Vogel
Joe Vogel on August 25, 2010 at 8:36 pm

The marquee Mike and tlsloews admire was installed in the early 1960s, after the Edwards circuit took over operation from Fox West Coast, who had at that time operated the house for well over a decade. Edwards had operated the El Rey for a while earlier, too, under an arrangement with leaseholder Fox.

The 1951 USC photo ken mc linked to above has been moved and is now here. It gives only a glimpse of the side of the older marquee, a boxy, neon affair probably installed in the 1930s. The original, triple-arched entrance of the Temple Theatre, seen in the photo at the top of this page, was long gone by the time I first saw the place.

The architects of the Temple were Walker & Eisen, by the way, as noted in Southwest Builder & Contractor of June 4, 1921. The Temple opened in December, 1921.

Mike Rogers
Mike Rogers on August 25, 2010 at 6:12 pm

First things First,when “Frankenstien” played here it was rated X,so they must have gotten an edited version. Marquee is good like Tlsloews said,But I wouldn’t have the ratings “R” and “PG” so large.

TLSLOEWS on August 25, 2010 at 2:46 pm

Nice looking Marquee at the ElRay.

shilo07 on May 6, 2010 at 8:26 pm

great theatre i saw scarface and other great film i miss this theatre.

kencmcintyre on December 28, 2007 at 1:34 pm

The El Rey is on the left in this 1951 photo from the USC archives:

kencmcintyre on June 26, 2007 at 8:29 pm

This story in the LA Times concerned the possible demolition of the El Rey after the Whittier quake in 1987. Date of the article is 10/8/87:

Plywood covered the hole where plate-glass windows had shattered, there were deep cracks in the walls, and the city Building Department had taped a sign on the door warning the public against entering the Alhambra Shade and Linoleum Co.

But inside, Helen McCann, the 80-year-old owner, was still at work this week, making window shades and fussing about the business she was losing while her customers were locked out because of earthquake damage.

Her store on Main Street should have been inspected and reopened by now, she said Tuesday, but her landlord had not given the city an engineering report on structural damage. In the meantime, McCann said, if she allowed customers in the store, “I’d be scared to death that somebody might get hurt.”

John Jomehri, whose Lovebirds Cafe is a few doors away in the same building, dropped by to commiserate with McCann over lost business and expensive repair bills.

Jomehri said he has had to throw away food, damage to his cafe’s wood and glass amounts to $3,000 and he is losing the revenue he usually gets from 300 customers a day.

Both McCann and Jomehri had hoped to reopen Wednesday, but city building inspectors said they want to take a closer look at the building, which has a deep crack on its east side as a result of Sunday’s aftershock. Jomehri said he was told that he might not be able to reopen until structural repairs were made and that the building might even be demolished.

“If they have to condemn the building, I’ll lose $70,000 to $80,000,” Jomehri said Wednesday. “I’m getting nervous.”

The cafe and linoleum store are just two of dozens of businesses along Main Street that have been closed by the quake and its aftershocks. The city estimated Wednesday that 50 to 80 businesses are shut down either voluntarily or at the direction of the city.

Officials said they do not have accurate figures for the number of residents forced out of their homes, but about 250 residential and commercial buildings and more than 1,000 chimneys were damaged. The total property loss to public and private structures is estimated at more than $20 million.

City Manager Kevin Murphy said most of the commercial damage has occurred to the 600 business and apartment buildings along Main Street and adjoining side streets that were constructed of unreinforced masonry before 1933. Murphy said the city policy has been to require demolition or structural improvements to such buildings only when their use changes in a way that would bring more people into the buildings. He said that in light of the earthquake damage, this policy will be re-evaluated.

Two of the commercial buildings that may face demolition because of quake damage are the El Rey and Alhambra Cinema theaters, both part of the Edwards Theaters chain.

The Alhambra Cinema consists of two theaters joined by a lobby. The larger, 900-seat theater has been partially demolished, and engineers are trying to determine whether they can save the second theater, which is part of a building that has apartments on the second floor and a long-closed bowling alley in the basement.

James Edwards, the 80-year-old founder and chairman of Edwards Theaters, said the Alhambra Cinema was constructed in 1922. He acquired it in 1930, making it the second theater in his chain, which now has 140 screens.

Edwards said such entertainers as Bing Crosby and the Marx Brothers appeared on the stage when the Alhambra theater was part of what was called “the coffee-and-doughnuts circuit, meaning that about all you would get there was coffee and doughnuts and maybe a $10 bill.” He said important vaudeville acts would play outlying theaters such as the Alhambra while they were in between more lucrative engagements in larger cities.

In the 1930s, Edwards said, he staged shows that featured five acts of vaudeville and a movie. In 1937, he said, the Alhambra Cinema became a forerunner to today’s multiplex theaters when it added a second screen.

Edwards, whose office is in Newport Beach, inspected the damage to the theater Saturday. “My wife and I felt like we’ve lost a member of the family,” Edwards said, “It was part of the beginning of our circuit.”

If the Alhambra Cinema is torn down and the El Rey, another former vaudeville house, is demolished, Edwards said they will become the second and third theaters he has lost in Alhambra to earthquakes. The Capri Theater was razed after the Sylmar earthquake in 1971.

In addition to widespread damage to commercial buildings, Alhambra sustained more than $5 million in damage to residences, according to city spokeswoman Judy Feuer. At least one house collapsed, she said, and another sustained heavy damage when a chimney fell through a roof.

Two of the city’s four fire stations have been closed since Thursday’s earthquake, and the city’s headquarters station, although open, suffered some damage. Murphy said one of the fire stations may have to be demolished.

The damage to city property is estimated at $1.5 million.

Other badly damaged structures include five apartment buildings, an auto repair shop and a small hotel.

Dennisb on April 28, 2006 at 2:32 pm

Well, Joe, in the early 40s I spent a good bit of time in that old building when my dad worked for the National Life and Accident Insurance Company (merged in the 1970s). As I recall the entry to the building was on Garfield, not Main. At least as I think back about 60+ years, I seem to remember walking in with my dad on the Garfield side – just about where the awning is missing between the first three and the fourth. Once in, you took a short walk straight ahead and there was one of those elevators with a door that was made of crossed metal pieces that folded up when you opened it and expanded, sort of like an accordian, when you closed it. As I recall, his office was on the 2nd floor, but I cannot remember what side of the building. Also, in the 40s, I cannot remember the big Owl Drug Company sign. Could it have been gone by then? In your day, do you remember the Owl Drug Company sign? If so, then I was mistaken.

I know where Potrero Heights is, but know nothing about the community since the closest I ever got to it was just driving through once or twice.

Recently, I had a most interesting exchange with the President of the Alhambra Historical Society. I sent her a description of a place my mom used to take me when I was about six or seven (1943-44) and asked her if any of the members could tell me where it was just from my description. In about two weeks I got a nice letter from her telling me it was Story Park in Alhambra. Turns out that in Story Park there used to be a “plunge” (called the “plunge” instead of the more common place “pool” these days). Well she enclosed a copy of the “plunge.” That was strange opening her letter, seeing that pic of taken from the interior of the “plunge” and instantly remembering all that time I spent there.

I actually attended Alhambra High School for a year and a half, from 1952-1954, just before my dad transferred to Nashville, Tennessee. Once I subscribed to Classmates.com, but dropped my membership when I found out how many things you want to do that you can only do by subscribing to their “Gold” or some other membership level.

Good to hear from you again, Joe

Joe Vogel
Joe Vogel on April 27, 2006 at 10:52 pm

Dennis, Cinema Treasures didn’t send me an e-mail notification of your last comment, so I didn’t find out it was here until tonight. I’ve been refreshing my memory of the entries for Alhambra’s theatres so I can ask questions about them of the members of classmates.com’s Alhambra High School contingent (Classmates recently re-opened their message boards to posting by non-paying members of the site.) Although I went to Mark Keppel High School, members can use the boards for any of the schools on the site.

Since my last post, I’ve found a couple of old pictures of Alhambra on the web, and one of them shows the corner of Garfield and Main in the 1920’s. It turns out that the Owl drug store was in the three story building on the northeast corner of Garfield and Main, so the Thrifty must have been in the one story building on the northwest corner. I think I was momentarily confused about their relative positions because the Owl Drug Store at the corner of Fair Oaks and Colorado in Pasadena was on the northwest corner of that intersection.

Also, re-reading my comments above, I don’t think I answered your question about where I lived in those days. It was in the south end of South San Gabriel, almost into Potrero Heights. When the wind was in the south, we could smell the oil wells in the Montebello Hills.

Dennisb on January 16, 2006 at 3:15 am

Joe, it is always tempting to talk of the “good ole days.” After reading this article, I now realize how good it was sitting in the lodges at the old El Rey Theatre during the Saturday Matinee. I just never realized it at the time.

View link

Joe Vogel
Joe Vogel on January 12, 2006 at 10:26 pm

Dennis, I do recall that the El Rey was the first theatre in Alhambra to get a CinemaScope screen. The very first CinemaScope movie ever released was “The Robe” which was released on September 16th, 1953, but I don’t think the El Rey’s screen was installed early enough to have shown that movie on its initial release. It actually took a couple of years for CinemaScope screens to make their way into a majority of theatres, partly because it took a while for the studios to demonstrate that there would be enough movies in the format to induce theatre owners to make the substantial investment to install new screens and projection equipment.

In the meantime, many movies (including The Robe itself) were released in both CinemaScope and in standard 35mm versions. For a couple of years, theatres which had installed the new system would often find themselves short of new CinemaScope product, and, to fill the gap, would show either non-CinemaScope movies, or earlier CinemaScope releases which the studios kept available especially for that purpose.

Finding out when specific theatres installed CinemaScope would require a bit of research- probably looking through their ads in local newspapers, as a theatre which had installed it would always advertise the fact. For the first couple of years, most theatres with newly-installed CinemaScope systems would inaugurate them by showing “The Robe” for one week. My fuzzy memory of when the El Rey got CinemaScope is complicated by the fact that I think the first wide-screen movie I saw at that particular theatre was the 1960 version of “Cimarron” (being a Fox-West Coast house, the El Rey had highest ticket prices in Alhambra, so we didn’t go there often.)

The reason I think that the El Rey might not have gotten CinemaScope until 1955 is that I believe that the one time we went there before the new screen was installed was to see a re-release of “Gone with the Wind”, and according to the GwtW release dates page at IMDB, that re-release had to have been the one in December of 1954.

I do remember being in the El Rey and seeing the screen surrounded by the framework which was going to be used in the demolition of the proscenium to make room for the new screen. If that happened before the December, 1954 screening of GwtW that we saw there, then I must have gone to the El Rey once before then, but I have no memory of having done so.

Dennisb on January 12, 2006 at 8:45 pm

Joe, I have enjoyed our brief exchanges here. You have brought to mind many memories, few of which relate to the main topic of this web site. So, I will not pollute the Cinema Treasures web site by posting them here. You have also caused me to be reminded that many of the details of events that are now about sixty years in the past are not as sharp as they once were.

I sense that you are not overly familiar with the area around Adelyn Drive, Roses Rd and San Marino Blvd in San Gabriel. That is where Washington Elementary School is and is the neighborhood I grew up in. Whenever I am in that area, I stop by and am amazed by the fact that so little has changed over all these years. Everything is just as it was; almost as if the old neighborhood fell into a time warp of some sort and just remained unchanged. That is one of the joys of my life being able to go back there every once in a while.

An interesting note – when I first returned to the old neighborhood, it seemed much smaller. It was not until several years later that I realized that was due to my having been driving a bicycle when I left and driving a car upon my first return.

Please do post anything further you recall about the old theatres, Joe. Although I attended the single screen Alhambra theatre many times, I do not recall much about its interior and have a hard time even thinking about it now when standing in front of what must be a 10-12 screen theatre that has taken its place.

In one of your posts, I recall you mentioned the installation of Cinemascope in the El Rey Theatre, but could not recall exactly when that took place. My recollection is having seen “Beneath the 12 Mile Reef” (Gilbert Roland, Terry Moore, Robert Wagner) on the big screen at (I believe) the El Ray Theatre. If it was the El Ray (and I believe it was), that would have been 1953 when that movie was released.

Joe Vogel
Joe Vogel on January 11, 2006 at 5:10 pm

Dennis, I think that the fact that the organ was still in use at the theatre you attended in the 1940’s is interesting. By the time I began attending the theatres in the area, the Rialto in South Pasadena was the only one that still had a working organ, and I never got to hear that one. My first visit to the Rialto wasn’t until a couple of years after a fire on the stage had destroyed the organ console, in the early 1970’s.

It’s possible that the Granada still had an operating organ until it was remodeled and renamed the Coronet, but I’m not sure what year that happened- it was most likely in the mid-late 1940’s, as the remodeling took place before I ever saw the place.

I only went to the El Rey once before it was given a CinemaScope screen, and I don’t remember seeing an organ console at that time. If the organ was still there when CinemaScope was installed (1955, I think), it certainly would have been removed to make way for the wider screen.

There was a three story building on the northeast corner of Garfield and Main. The ground floor of that building was for a long time the location of the Thrifty Drug Store. The building on the northwest corner, with the Owl Rexall store in it, was when I first saw it in the late 1940’s only one story tall. After Owl moved out, it was the location of Lucky Auto Supply for a long time. Both of these buildings have since been demolished. The top two floors of the one on the northeast corner were removed after being damaged by the 1971 earthquake. The remainder was demolished, along with the old Kress building next door to it, just a couple of years ago to make way for an new Edwards multiplex theatre (which is not yet listed at Cinema Treasures.)

I don’t recall a stamp shop on Garfield. By the mid 1950’s, the only stamp shop I knew of was on the south side of Main just west of Second, in the same block as Pedrini’s music store. I don’t remember the name of it. Then next nearest stamp store that I knew of was Royal Stamp Supply on Raymond Avenue in Pasadena.

I don’t have a clear memory of the decor in the Bun ‘n’ Burger. We only went there a couple of times, and that was probably after 1955. My dad grew up mostly in Manhattan Beach, and that’s where his favorite hamburger joint was. When he wanted a hamburger, we’d usually hop in the car and drive the twenty or so miles to the beach (on surface streets all the way) to get one. We always lived in South San Gabriel, either near Garvey and San Gabriel Boulevard, or in the hills near Potrero Heights. My frequent jaunts to Alhambra were facilitated by the fact that we always lived within a couple of blocks of one of the local bus lines operated by Foster Transportation. Alhambra was our downtown, and from the earliest times I remember, we went there at least once a week.

Dennisb on January 11, 2006 at 8:27 am

Joe, you have an encyclopedic memory of Alhambra in those days. I will guess that you stayed close to the area during the years you mentioned and as a result have an uninterrupted recollection of the changes you mentioned. Thanks much for straightening out my memory. I think you are right in that the Ritz and Rialto were not in Alhambra, but in South Pasadena. It must have been the El Ray that I attended matinees in during the mid to late ‘40s. You mentioned the Owl Drug Store on the northwest corner of Garfield and Main. As I recall, the building on that corner was a two or three story building for my father worked in the National Life and Accident Insurance Company office up on the second floor. I recall that to go from floor 1 to floor 2, you got in one of those old elevators that had the accordian type door that you pulled open and closed by yourself. In the event you ever collected stamps, do you recall old man Winkler’s stamp shop on the west side of Garfield about three doors south of the southwest corner of Garfield and Main? Many an hour I spent there. Were the cartoon drawings of Olive, Blutto, Wimpy and Popeye still chasing each other around the walls of the Bun 'n Burger when you had your first hamburger there?

Where did you happen to live during those days, Joe? My family lived on various streets in Alhambra (Almansor Stret)and in San Gabriel (Adelyn Drive, Alabama St. and in Mercury Park not far north of the Mission) Sorry to have gotten off the theatre topic, but those theatres just brought out a flood of memories of my early school days in San Gabriel

Joe Vogel
Joe Vogel on January 11, 2006 at 4:12 am

Dennis, you saw the theatres in Alhambra before I did. The first time I went to a movie on Main Street was probably about 1953. I lived in the area until 1986, and attended all the theatres you mention except the Ritz.

The Ritz was not in Alhambra, but on Fair Oaks Avenue in South Pasadena, a block north of Mission Street. The Ritz was the first theatre in the area to be closed and demolished. I’m not sure exactly when, but it must have been before 1961 or 1962.

The Rialto was also in South Pasadena, three blocks south of the Ritz, on the other side of the street, at the Corner of Oxley. The Rialto is still there, still open, and still operating as a single screen theatre. It is the only intact survivor among the old theatres in the western San Gabriel Valley.

The El Rey Was the theatre across Main Street from the old main building of Alhambra High School. It was operated by Fox-West Coast in the 1950’s, while the other two theatres on Main Street were both operated by Edwards Theatre Circuit.

The Alhambra Theatre (which is listed at Cinema Treasures under its final name, Alhambra Twin Cinemas) was at the southeast corner of Atlantic Boulevard and Main Street. If you attended it in the early 1940’s, you must have been there at the time The Annex (built in adjacent retail space in 1941) was operating. I don’t remember seeing The Annex in use until it was re-opened as the Gold Cinema sometime about 1970.

The Granada, was the original name of the third theatre on Main Street (and it was probably the oldest), but its name was changed to The Coronet some time before the early 1950’s, and then changed again in the early 1960’s to The Capri. This might be the theatre you’re thinking of, but it was not east of Garfield. It was located in the building on the southeast corner of Second and Main, catty-corner from the old Alhambra City Hall. If I remember correctly, the corner retail space in the building was, when I first saw it, the location of a music store, and then there was a stairway up to the second floor where there was a dance studio, then a small lunch room next to that, and then a tiny jewelery store next to the theatre entrance. I don’t remember what was in the tiny shop on the other side of the theatre entrance. This was the first Main Street theatre to be demolished, after it was badly damaged in the Sylmar earthquake of 1971.

As far back as I can remember, there were no theatres on Main Street east of Garfield. My earliest memories of Main Street go back to about 1948 or 1949, but they only involve the shopping district, not the theatres. I remember, very vaguely, when the Owl Drug Store was on the northwest corner of Garfield and Main. I remember, very clearly, when J.C. Penney moved from its small store where Downer’s was later located to its big new building east of Chapel Avenue. I even recall going in the old J.J. Newberry store, and then seeing it demolished and replaced by W.T. Grant’s new building. But at that time, there were no theatres east of Garfield. It was nothing but shops and a few lunch rooms and, a bit later, a couple of banks.

I do remember the Bun and Burger. In fact, it is one of the places that is listed at L.A. Time Machines, a web site devoted to surviving bars and restaurants (and a few other businesses) which are largely unchanged from decades ago.

Dennisb on January 10, 2006 at 10:53 pm

Joe, during 1944-1952, I went to the movies down on Main St. in Alhambra and seem to recall the name of one or two of the movie houses I went to to have been the Ritz and / or the Rialto Theatres. Yet, according to what is posted above, the El Rey Theatre was open during these same years. I recall that as you went east out Main Street (toward to old single screen Alhambra Theatre), the theatre was about a block beyond Garfield Blvd on your right hand side. Further, before each Saturday matinee, an organist played live music down in front of the stage on a very large organ. Can you please help me sort out what Theatre (s) I am thinking of? I also have vivid memories of the Bun ‘n Burger in 1943-1949 if you are interested. The place is still there and I have returned many times over the intervening 63 years for burgers that still taste the same, I am told because they are still cooked on the same grill.

Joe Vogel
Joe Vogel on November 21, 2004 at 7:49 pm

The opening of this theater was announced in the Los Angeles Times issue of 12/25/1921, under the headline “Mr. Temple’s new theater opens in Alhambra.” This was Walter Paul Temple, local landowner and developer, who would later develop Temple City. The paper also announced that the new theater would be leased by a Mr. O.H. Schleusener, who was already the manager of another movie house in Alhambra.

Southwest Builder and Contractor of 6/3/1921 says that architects Walker (Albert Raymond) and Eisen (Percy Augustus) were preparing the plans for the theater. The building was to be 60' by 150' and would have a seating capacity of 800. The estimated cost was $50,000.

Joe Vogel
Joe Vogel on October 31, 2004 at 8:33 am

I did see the news of the project west of the library at the Alhambra city web site, noname. The Fourth Street corner of that block once was the site of one of the old Spanish style Ralph’s markets, built in the 1920’s, and ruined in the late 1950’s by being clad in an ugly aluminum and plaster skin. I’ve also seen the pictures of the new cineplex at Garfield. It’s remarkably garish and awkward, and actually looks sort of cheap. I also saw that the Edwards Alhambra Place on Bay State Street is being demolished to make way for an apartment complex. That cineplex was only built in the mid 1980’s, as I recall. It certainly didn’t last long!